Reflective Thinking: The Hard Part about Being a Christian Apologist

Reflective Thinking: The Hard Part about Being a Christian Apologist

I’ve had the great honor and pleasure of meeting (and, on occasion, getting to know) some of Christianity’s finest contemporary apologists of the last 50 years. These people have taught me so much about logic, philosophy, history, science, literature, theology, and doctrine. In many ways, whatever limited apologetics wisdom can be gleaned from my own books was shaped by other authors and the Christian thinkers I’ve talked with and studied under.

I remember meeting one distinguished apologist who really surprised me with the advice he offered me. This individual was one of my intellectual and theological heroes. I met him during an earlier stage of my life when I was relatively new to the field of Christian apologetics. It took some nerve, but I finally asked him if he had some advice to offer me as a young and aspiring Christian thinker.

To my amazement, he counseled me to avoid allowing the tremendous investment of time and energy necessary for academic and scholarly pursuits, which can erode the commitment and dedication to spouse and children. He then shared some of the challenges that he had faced in his own marriage and family when it came to balancing life’s priorities. This wasn’t the advice I was expecting—but it turned out to be extremely valuable instruction.

I love the cerebral part of my work and vocation and I’m good at thinking, reading, and reflecting upon ideas and issues. As I see it, ideas rule the world. (For example, consider the recent tragedy in Nairobi, Kenya, where the tenets of Islamic extremism were the impetus for the violence committed at the Westgate mall.) So, though developing sound apologetics arguments and answering serious objections to the faith is still hard and challenging work, the overall life of the mind comes easy to me.

On the other hand, developing deep character virtues and growing in personal intimacy with the people who matter most in my life presents a bigger challenge for me. I struggle with consistently and successfully confronting the brokenness sin causes in my life, which tends to manifest itself in immaturity and irresponsibility. Yet I not only want my apologetics arguments to be logically cogent, I also want to be a deeply moral person who is loving, humble, and courageous. To reference the great philosopher Aristotle, genuine persuasion requires in the arguer the presence of logos, ethos, and pathos (intellectual, moral, and emotional credibility).

I’m convinced that at the end of my life I will not be wishing that I had written another book or given another academic lecture. I’ll very likely be lying in my deathbed reflecting upon to what degree I have lived a life filled with integrity and how much I have loved and nurtured my wife and children.

It’s these deep character and relational issues that are the hard part of being a Christian apologist. Maybe that is why I’m so captivated with the Gospel message that salvation is a free gift of divine grace (Ephesians 2:8–10; Titus 3:4–7). The love and forgiveness of the Triune God is something that I cannot earn and do not deserve, but it is the greatest truth and reality of my life.